Commemorating 20 Years of IES: Sonia Cabell
Commemorating 20 Years of IES: Sonia Cabell

Commemorating 20 Years of IES
Sonia Cabell, Florida Center for Reading Research, Florida State University

Jeremy StoddardIt is my great pleasure to help commemorate 20 years of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Indeed, my career would have been very different without the support of IES and all that it has given me. As a graduate student in the mid- to late-2000s, I “cut my teeth” on IES projects focused on preschool language and literacy interventions (PI: Laura Justice) and, as an early career researcher, I had the privilege of being part of the National Center on Early Childhood Education (PI: Robert Pianta). Fast-forwarding to present day, I have been a part of nine IES-funded projects, in various roles, and have written many papers using data sets from these and other IES-funded projects. Without a doubt, I have gained invaluable insights through these projects. But IES has always been about more than just funding important research projects— IES has consistently sought to improve researchers’ ability to conduct quality research and to systematically train the next generation of scholars. I am a product of these efforts, as IES helped to shape my trajectory as a researcher. From knowledgeable and thoughtful program officers (deepest thanks to Caroline Ebanks) to methodological trainings to a rich store of reports available on their website, I have been considerably strengthened as a researcher.

In my early work on IES-funded projects, I began to recognize the essential role of oral language skills in reading ability. I wanted to understand how to strengthen these skills during the early childhood period (birth-8), with the goal of preventing later reading difficulties. Through IES Efficacy projects, I saw how difficult it was to improve children’s oral language skills in early childhood classroom settings. It was hard to shift teachers’ conversational interactions with children in ways that transformed the trajectories of children’s oral language growth. One key take-away for me from this early work was that to improve children’s learning, teachers needed more than professional development and coaching, they also needed curricular materials.

My subsequent work, funded through four IES grants as PI or co-PI (Efficacy; Development & Innovation; Exploration; with key collaborators Tricia Zucker, Beth Phillips, and James Kim), has been to better understand and push on important levers to improve young children’s oral language skills. These levers include providing quality curricular materials along with coaching supports, strengthening conversations in the context of interactive read-alouds in preschool through first grade classrooms, using a multitiered systems of support approach, aligning support across school and home settings, and building language through content-rich literacy instruction. As part of a recent Efficacy project, my team reported significant effects of the widely used Core Knowledge Language Arts: Knowledge curriculum on kindergarteners’ general vocabulary, an unusual finding that joins a growing body of research demonstrating the effect of integrated content and literacy approaches on children’s literacy skills. Collectively, these research efforts have contributed important knowledge to the extant literature on what works, for whom, and under what conditions.

I am so grateful for the opportunities that IES has provided for me to flourish throughout my career. Over the years, I have grown as a scholar and have deepened friendships with colleagues at grantee meetings, review panels, and trainings. IES is ever-expanding to provide transformative pathways forward into increasing the rigor and understanding of education research. The Standards for Excellence in Education Research (SEER) push all of us toward open science and better understanding of implementation. Thanks to IES, I am better equipped to mentor junior scholars with the goal of training the next generation of reading researchers.